WIN: Pullman Historic Clocktower Renovation Breaks Ground

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“We owe it to the Pullman community and our entire country, to preserve this history and uplift this neighborhood it to its rightful place in our city’s cultural and economic life,” Mayor Lightfoot said. (Baichwal, ABC News7)

“The remarkable progress being made of late in Chicago’s Pullman community is an encouraging sign for the future of the city and the value of its historic places.

“Officials this week symbolically broke ground on a $34 million restoration of Pullman’s historic clocktower and administration building at 111th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. The building will be the heart of the Pullman National Monument, a designation given to the landmark neighborhood five years ago under President Barack Obama.

“What a turnaround for a building that was nearly lost in an extra alarm fire in 1998. Now, once restored, the 120-year-old clocktower and administration building and its 12-acre site will become the national monument’s visitors’ center, operated by the National Park Service.

“It’s good to see Pullman getting its due. Since the 1970s, residents in the civically active neighborhood have worked to preserve the historic and architecturally significant ex-company town created in the 1880s by railroad car manufacturer George Pullman.

“We hope this keeps up. Rehabs and restorations on Pullman’s northern end must continue in order to bring it to the same tourist-friendly level of beauty that the neighborhood’s southern half currently enjoys.

“And we’d like to see neighboring Roseland get some benefit from Pullman’s success and momentum. The community’s mile-long Michigan Avenue commercial strip and turn-of-the-last-century housing are in need of reinvestment.

“But none of this would be possible — neither the progress to date nor the continued potential — without the years of preservation work that provided the platform. Pullman is enjoying success today because the historic places that make it special were preserved.

“That’s important to remember in a city that still rolls the bulldozers a little too quickly on the South and West sides, often leaving no more than vacant lots — rather than new development — behind. The neighborhood of Pullman, an architectural pioneer 120 years ago, can show us a different way once again.” (Chicago Sun-Times Editorial, 9/8/20)

Commissioned by George Pullman to produce his legendary Pullman Palace Car Company sleeping cars, starting in 1880 architect Solon S. Beman designed the first model, planned industrial town in the United States. The Pullman Historic District is significant and one of the most beautiful industrial landscapes in the country. Pullman is one of the most famous company towns and the backdrop for the violent 1894 Pullman labor strike. The Pullman Historic District was designated a National Monument on February 19, 2015 which makes it a part of the National Park System.

Built in 1880, the Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building designed by architect Solon S. Beman was the central hub of activity among the extensive manufacturing buildings. Unlike most industrial and manufacturing buildings of that period (and today), the Administration and Factory Complex was a beautifully designed, highly ornate collection of buildings designed within a park-like setting. The Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building was built on the shores of Lake Vista, an artificial lake which also served as a cooling reservoir for the enormous Corliss steam engine. As visitors would approach Pullman by rail, the first building a visitor would see was the glorious primary facade of the Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building. George Pullman built a powerful profitable corporation, and also built a beautiful planned community.

The preservation advocacy efforts for Pullman have spanned decades. In 1960, residents organized to form the Pullman Civic Organization (PCO) to advocate for Pullman’s preservation. By 1969, Pullman was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 1970 was declared a National Historic Landmark. By 1972, the southern portion of Pullman was designated as a Chicago Landmark followed by the northern portion in 1993. A significant milestone occurred in 1991, when the State of Illinois purchased the Administration Building, the Factory Complex, and Hotel Florence and created a state historic site. Then tragedy struck on December 1, 1998, when after surviving years of neglect and deferred maintenance, the Clock Tower and Administration was targeted by an arsonist and the building suffered extensive damage from the ensuing fire. Portions of the building were reconstructed in the following years.

Preservation Chicago has been working for years on this effort and is delighted that plans are moving forward. We’re also hoping for a complementary Chicago Landmark District in the neighboring Roseland community to include “the Pullman Lands” and to drive economic development on South Michigan Avenue in Roseland.

From Preservation Chicago’s 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered Book
“If strategically planned, South Michigan Avenue could experience a huge increase in tourism generated from the adjacent Pullman National Monument. Prior to the National Monument designation, visitors to Pullman numbered approximately 15,000 annually. Published estimates anticipate over 300,000 expected visitors to the Pullman National Monument annually. The City of Chicago and the community of Roseland have a great opportunity to capitalize on these visitors by investing in its historic buildings, sensibly developing vacant parcels along the commercial corridor and proactively attracting these visitors to South Michigan Avenue.

“PlaceEconomics, a national organization that conducts local preservation impact studies, notes that historic preservation is an effective tool to stimulate commercial revitalization, encourage heritage tourism, increase property values, and generate additional jobs and incomes. Investing in historic buildings is a proven strategy to create more positive economic impact. PlaceEconomics’ research has determined that heritage tourists spend more for food/beverage, shopping, recreation, lodging, and transportation in comparison to average visitors.

“Just down the hill from South Michigan Avenue on 111th Street is the historic, tree-lined Palmer Park which is almost adjacent to the Pullman National Monument. The creation of new Roseland-Pullman-Palmer Park Landmark District would serve as effective land bridge for heritage tourism, effectively drawing tens of thousands of visitors from the Pullman National Monument into Roseland and onto South Michigan Avenue. Additionally, it would create awareness, protections, and additional funding sources for significant commercial buildings, churches, schools, and greenspaces in Roseland with strong connections to George Pullman, the former “Pullman Lands,” and the Pullman National Monument.

“For visitors to the Pullman National Monument to more fully understand the story of George Pullman, Pullman Porters, labor history, and the experience of Pullman workers, it’s essential to recognize George Pullman’s historic influence in shaping the development of Roseland and Pullman.

“Pullman owned significant tracts of land on the west side of the Illinois Central railroad tracks. At that time, the tracks which were at street-level and land on the Roseland side were more visually connected and integrated to the Town of Pullman. These future parklands were on axis with the Town of Pullman, specifically the Administration Building and Hotel Florence along 111th Street. The concrete embankment which later raised the railroad tracks became an artificial barrier that bisected and divided the community. This landmark district proposal would help to reintegrate these two communities. Pullman played a role in the creation of the two vast symmetric green spaces along 111th Street in Roseland which became Palmer Park and the park-like campus of the magnificent former Pullman Free School of Manual Training, later known as the Gregor Mendel High School and now known as Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy.

“George Pullman bequeathed $1.2 million in 1897 for the Pullman Free School of Manual Training designed by architect Frank Jobson in 1915. Palmer Park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers and the Palmer Park Fieldhouse was designed by D.H. Burnham & Company. Pullman donated land for the Pullman Branch Public Library designed by A.F. Hussander at 11001 S. Indiana Avenue. He also donated land for the two churches designed by Pullman’s architect Solon S. Beman, specifically Elim/Reformation Lutheran Church built in 1888 at 11310 S. Forest Avenue and the magnificent Holy Rosary (Irish) Roman Catholic Church/Greater Tabernacle Cathedral built in 1890 at 11300 S. King Drive. In approximately 1985, future president Barak Obama as a young 23-year-old had his first community organizing office in the basement of Holy Rosary Catholic Church and later moved to Elim/Reformation Lutheran Church. In addition, there are several early frame churches linked to Dutch abolitionist settlers that front Palmer Park and Brooks Academy. After being located in the Pullman Arcade Building, the Pullman Trust and Savings Bank moved to its new headquarters by architect Howard van Doren Shaw at 400 E. 111th Street in 1926. This beautiful limestone façade and columned corner entry served as the Pullman Bank’s headquarters until the 1970s and is located only 600 feet from the Pullman National Monument.

“The proposed new Roseland-Pullman-Palmer Park Landmark District would be an east/west connector centered on Palmer Park to reconnect the communities Roseland and Pullman. It could extend along 111th Street from the Pullman National Monument to the Michigan Avenue commercial corridor and include the significant churches, schools, buildings, and greenspaces listed above.”
(Chicago 7 2020 Most Endangered Book)

Read the full editorial at the Chicago Sun-Times

Renovation of historic clocktower will help put Pullman — and Chicago’s far South Side — back on track; Pullman is enjoying success today because the historic places that make it special were preserved. That’s a lesson for the whole city, Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, 9/8/20

Leaders Celebrate Labor Day at Ground Breaking of National Monument Renovation, Chicago’s first national monument will honor the history of Labor Day, Ravi Baichwal, ABC 7 Chicago, 9/7/20

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